Do ‘Angel Flights’ Release Flare Salutes for Fallen Soldiers?

A photograph purportedly showing a plane releasing a flare salute to soldiers killed in battle is often shared with misleading information.

  • Published 30 May 2017

Claim

A photograph shows an "Angel Flight" releasing a flare salute in honor of the fallen soldiers it is transporting.

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Origin

In late May 2017, an image purportedly showing an “Angel Flight” releasing a flare salute in honor of fallen soldiers it was transporting home to the United States was widely circulated on social media:

Angel Flights are the U.S. Air Force planes (C-130’s) used to fly home our Fallen Soldiers.

This is the Angel Flight’s flare salute.

Today we remember all those who’ve been carried on Angel Flights and those who’ve been lost on the battlefield – everyone who has ever died protecting our great nation…

The plane featured in this viral photograph does not appear to be a United States Air Force C-130 plane. Although we have not been able to positively identify the aircraft, it appears to be a Russian Ilyushin Il-76. Both the Il-76 and C-130 release a similar flare pattern, but the aircrafts have a few obvious differences. For instance, the C-130 (right) has visible propellers, while the Il-76 (left) uses Turbofan engines:

In addition to misidentifying the aircraft, the Facebook post also claimed that the photograph showed was releasing flares in honor of the fallen troops it was carrying. Although the flares are sometimes called “angel flares” due to the pattern they leave, they are deployed primarily as a defense mechanism — not to signify that they are carrying anything other than the usual crew and supplies.

To further complicate things, the term “angel flight” is sometimes used to refer to an aircraft that is transporting fallen soldiers, but this does not appear to be an official military term and the two are apparently unrelated.